My Take: The Bible really does condemn homosexuality
March 3rd, 2011
01:25 PM ET

My Take: The Bible really does condemn homosexuality

By Robert A. J. Gagnon, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D., is associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics and (with Dan Via) Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views.

In her recent CNN Belief Blog post “The Bible’s surprisingly mixed messages on sexuality,” Jennifer Wright Knust claims that Christians can’t appeal to the Bible to justify opposition to homosexual practice because the Bible provides no clear witness on the subject and is too flawed to serve as a moral guide.

As a scholar who has written books and articles on the Bible and homosexual practice, I can say that the reality is the opposite of her claim. It’s shocking that in her editorial and even her book, "Unprotected Texts," Knust ignores a mountain of evidence against her positions.

It raises a serious question: does the Left read significant works that disagree with pro-gay interpretations of Scripture and choose to simply ignore them?

Owing to space limitations I will focus on her two key arguments: the ideal of gender-neutral humanity and slavery arguments.

Knust's lead argument is that sexual differentiation in Genesis, Jesus and Paul is nothing more than an "afterthought" because "God's original intention for humanity was androgyny."

It’s true that Genesis presents the first human (Hebrew adam, from adamah, ground: “earthling”) as originally sexually undifferentiated. But what Knust misses is that once something is “taken from” the human to form a woman, the human, now differentiated as a man, finds his sexual other half in that missing element, a woman.

That’s why Genesis speaks of the woman as a “counterpart” or “complement,” using a Hebrew expression neged, which means both “corresponding to” and “opposite.” She is similar as regards humanity but different in terms of gender. If sexual relations are to be had, they are to be had with a sexual counterpart or complement.

Knust cites the apostle Paul’s remark about “no ‘male and female’” in Galatians. Yet Paul applies this dictum to establishing the equal worth of men and women before God, not to eliminating a male-female prerequisite for sex.

Applied to sexual relations, the phrase means “no sex,” not “acceptance of homosexual practice,” as is evident both from the consensus of the earliest interpreters of this phrase and from Jesus' own sayings about marriage in this age and the next.

All the earliest interpreters agreed that "no 'male and female,'" applied to sexual relations, meant "no sex."

That included Paul and the ascetic believers at Corinth in the mid-first century; and the church fathers and gnostics of the second to fourth centuries. Where they disagreed is over whether to postpone mandatory celibacy until the resurrection (the orthodox view) or to begin insisting on it now (the heretical view).

Jesus’ view

According to Jesus, “when (people) rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels” (Mark 12:25). Sexual relations and differentiation had only penultimate significance. The unmediated access to God that resurrection bodies bring would make sex look dull by comparison.

At the same time Jesus regarded the male-female paradigm as essential if sexual relations were to be had in this present age.

In rejecting a revolving door of divorce-and-remarriage and, implicitly, polygamy Jesus cited Genesis: “From the beginning of creation, ‘male and female he made them.’ ‘For this reason a man …will be joined to his woman and the two shall become one flesh’” (Mark 10:2-12; Matthew 19:3-12).

Jesus’ point was that God’s limiting of persons in a sexual union to two is evident in his creation of two (and only two) primary sexes: male and female, man and woman. The union of male and female completes the sexual spectrum, rendering a third partner both unnecessary and undesirable.

The sectarian Jewish group known as the Essenes similarly rejected polygamy on the grounds that God made us “male and female,” two sexual complements designed for a union consisting only of two.

Knust insinuates that Jesus wouldn’t have opposed homosexual relationships. Yet Jesus’ interpretation of Genesis demonstrates that he regarded a male-female prerequisite for marriage as the foundation on which other sexual standards could be predicated, including monogamy. Obviously the foundation is more important than anything predicated on it.

Jesus developed a principle of interpretation that Knust ignores: God’s “from the beginning” creation of “male and female” trumps some sexual behaviors permitted in the Old Testament. So there’s nothing unorthodox about recognizing change in Scripture’s sexual ethics. But note the direction of the change: toward less sexual license and greater conformity to the logic of the male-female requirement in Genesis. Knust is traveling in the opposite direction.

Knust’s slavery analogy and avoidance of closer analogies

Knust argues that an appeal to the Bible for opposing homosexual practice is as morally unjustifiable as pre-Civil War appeals to the Bible for supporting slavery. The analogy is a bad one.

The best analogy will be the comparison that shares the most points of substantive correspondence with the item being compared. How much does the Bible’s treatment of slavery resemble its treatment of homosexual practice? Very little.

Scripture shows no vested interest in preserving the institution of slavery but it does show a strong vested interest from Genesis to Revelation in preserving a male-female prerequisite. Unlike its treatment of the institution of slavery, Scripture treats a male-female prerequisite for sex as a pre-Fall structure.

The Bible accommodates to social systems where sometimes the only alternative to starvation is enslavement. But it clearly shows a critical edge by specifying mandatory release dates and the right of kinship buyback; requiring that Israelites not be treated as slaves; and reminding Israelites that God had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt.

Paul urged enslaved believers to use an opportunity for freedom to maximize service to God and encouraged a Christian master (Philemon) to free his slave (Onesimus).

How can changing up on the Bible’s male-female prerequisite for sex be analogous to the church’s revision of the slavery issue if the Bible encourages critique of slavery but discourages critique of a male-female paradigm for sex?

Much closer analogies to the Bible’s rejection of homosexual practice are the Bible’s rejection of incest and the New Testament’s rejection of polyamory (polygamy).

Homosexual practice, incest, and polyamory are all (1) forms of sexual behavior (2) able to be conducted as adult-committed relationships but (3) strongly proscribed because (4) they violate creation structures or natural law.

Like same-sex intercourse, incest is sex between persons too much structurally alike, here as regards kinship rather than gender. Polyamory is a violation of the foundational “twoness” of the sexes.

The fact that Knust chooses a distant analogue (slavery) over more proximate analogues (incest, polyamory) shows that her analogical reasoning is driven more by ideological biases than by fair use of analogies.

Knust’s other arguments are riddled with holes.

In claiming that David and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship she confuses kinship affection with erotic love. Her claim that “from the perspective of the New Testament” the Sodom story was about “the near rape of angels, not sex between men” makes an "either-or" out of Jude 7’s "both-and."

Her canard that only a few Bible texts reject homosexual practice overlooks other relevant texts and the fact that infrequent mention is often a sign of significance. It is disturbing to read what passes nowadays for expert “liberal” reflections on what the Bible says about homosexual practice.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Robert A. J. Gagnon.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Homosexuality

soundoff (4,272 Responses)
  1. Kevin

    and the Bible promotes slavery, too. Sooooo

    March 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  2. Bruin

    While I can't dispute Mr Gagnon's biblical research, I don't think he goes far enough. The analogy of man seeking out woman to "complete" himself because woman was created from parts of man is certainly romantic, but is hardly supported physiologically. Much depends on one's interpretation of the edict "be fruitful and mulitply". Was that given to Adam and Eve specifically, to humankind in general, or to every individual? A&E did their part; the human race has utterly infested the planet, yet there remain certain individuals who can't or won't reproduce. Are they doomed?
    Further, WHY is this ban in place? Historically, the Jewish nation has been the minority, surrounded on all sides by hostile tribes and nations, and at best, non-believers. It was in the Jews' best interest, both to preserve and build a nation, to breed like rabbits...independant of one's personal inclinations, and what better way to enforce it but to put the Good Housekeeping Seal of GOD on the order?

    March 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  3. Reality

    "Jesus’ view

    According to Jesus, “when (people) rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels” (Mark 12:25). Se-xual relations and differentiation had only penultimate significance. The unmediated access to God that resurrection bodies bring would make s-ex look dull by comparison."

    The reality:

    There was and never will be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity

    March 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  4. lllll

    then why priests prefer little boys than little girls?

    March 3, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  5. Drew

    Fortunately, the US has secular law, not Biblical law.

    The Bible also forbids menstruating women from attending church, and that law is universally broken by every church in America every week.

    I wonder if there are ministers fretting over how flagrantly they break this law.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  6. Christian

    The immoral folks having a hissy fit are not supposed to agree, or even understand what the author is saying.

    1Co 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

    God is not mocked. End of argument.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Adam

      blah blah blah. wake up and take a look around you man. experience reality for a change.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • joey

      it's amazing how many non believers there are . I read these comments and im appaled by the comments they leave . May god bless all the nonbelievers . amen

      March 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Nancy

      God created some folks as gay–end of argument.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Adam

      If you are going to pray for me then I'm going to go do some blow and bang some random chick...just as long as you have everything covered for me, k?

      March 3, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Sam's Mom

      True. What all the haters are missing, is this article is not gay-bashing, it is merely his interpretation of scripture. If they all TRULY believe what they are writing, they wouldn't have even taken the time to read the article.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Adam

      do yourself a favor and debrainwash yourself and sam

      March 3, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Chris

      God is mocked, God is not anything. Cause he doesn't EXIST. 🙂

      March 3, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  7. dcon

    Yeah, not buying what you're selling, Robert Gagnon. Nice try, but your phd does not give you the authority to retrospectively interpret scripture to match your agenda. Genesis is an allegorical story, borrowed from other cultures. It is not history and if you're a scholar of any merit, you know this. And while I agree that the androgyny argument is hogwash (not to mention boring), the remainder of your fundamentalist arguments are anachronistic. You are guilty of the same crime of which you accuse Knust – manipulating scriptural interpretation to justify your own prejudices.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  8. paranevil

    What a bunch of opinionated drabble. If you sir, are a scholar, then once again the American school system has failed miserably.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  9. mb2010a

    What an idiot.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  10. stejo

    My take – why I like other dudes...born that way. Next...

    March 3, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  11. Modern Times

    Civilized people do not follow the outdated rules of the bible, including stoning people to death, eat “unholy” food like pork or shellfish, do not consider women “dirty” on a monthly basis and so on. Why should we pick out few rules just because we can use it to bash on people who are different ?
    We do review and change the law according to our time and what we consider humane at that given time … and that includes giving women equal rights and hopefully rights of gay people will follow.
    USA is always the last western world country to adopt civilized law like women voting rights, slavery, blacks and now gay rights.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Guest


      March 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Ryan Schellenberg

      Finally, a voice of reason.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  12. Ryan Schellenberg

    Well, that's nice. The Bible also teaches that women shouldn't speak in church and that you shouldn't eat shellfish. Who cares what the Bible says? If we are not Christians, why should we be forced to live by your stupid moral codes. I am gay. I have always been gay...and I did not choose to be gay. I don't really care what anyone else's opinion is on the matter because THEY ARE NOT ME. It is my life to live how I see fit, and I think your holy book is a bunch of bunk.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Doug

      I'm not gay, but I empathize with you. It disgusts me when people hide behind fiction to justify their twisted way of thinking. Live your life brother. You didn't choose to be gay, but the author chooses to be ignorant!!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  13. Buddha

    The Bible reflects stories and myths recorded by poorly educated humans not far advanced beyond Stone Age. Why do we pay so much attention to it?

    March 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Adam

      for the same reason you chant om mani padme hum

      March 3, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  14. Josh

    Gagnon fails completely, because all of his arguments hit upon a solid wall when one factors in the fact, that Jesus didn't have a wife. Jesus had no required union with a woman.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • really?

      ever read revelation? ever read paul? ever heard of the analogy of the church being the bride of christ?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Ringo

      . . . .or did he?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  15. Justin

    It would be nice if humankind could stop dwelling on the outdated religious writings of the past and focus on the future. There are millions of better things people could devote their time and energy toward than these prejudicial oppositions to people different than themselves.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  16. Bob

    I started reading the Bible once but decided that the God portrayed was so evil that I wanted no part of it. I mean, the Old Testament God killed more Jews than Hitler.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Ryan Schellenberg

      and not just Jews...He flooded the entire earth and killed off all of the people and animals, except for Noah and his little floating zoo.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  17. Gregg

    My point, even if hard to follow is that this book is entirely open to interpretation, and was designed to be that way.

    You cannot read and apply it literally and still survive in a modern society.

    It has been changed over time to meet the needs of an ever changing society, it was changed by Man and his bias or prejudice.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Adam

      everything is open to interpretation...it all depends on what your definition of "is" is.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  18. Brendan

    Be it The Bible or the Epic of Gilgamesh, it's all fantasy.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  19. Adam

    Maybe this guy will next write an article on what color the stop signs in heaven are. Guess what buddy...2/3 of the world doesn't care what your dungeons and dragons manual has to say about gay people.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Otto

      Hilarious. You get points for being right AND funny. D and D. Classic.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  20. FV

    The bible also says women should not be educated, or allowed to teach anything to men, or indeed have an opinion when men are talking. Should we adhere to that "rule" also? Oh wait, this storybook is hopelessly outdated in todays society, so why oh why do people still use it to justify their personal attacks on others?

    There is nothing more off-putting in todays society than people trotting out the bible to try and prove a point/opinion. If you can't reason for yourself please keep it to yourself, we'll all be much better off in the long run.


    March 3, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Kenneth Van Wie II

      That's a big thumbs up to you, FV!!! Took the words out of my mouth.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • TB


      Reasoning "for" myself can and does include the Bible. And frankly, you are in no position to suggest anything to anyone but yourself. If you want to reason without the Bible, fine. If I want to include it in my worldview, that's my option. But you don't have the right to even suggest that anyone take your view. You and I are on our own.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Brad

      If you're gonna say things about the bible FV, you should at least know what you're talking about sir. it makes one look even more foolish than us "foolish Christians" lol!!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Ryan Schellenberg

      Ignorant people will always find reasons to support their prejudices, and much of the time they use the Bible to do it. If Heaven is filled with Christians, then I'd rather be in Hell with people who reason and use their brain.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Shane

      A god that would punish me eternally for doing nothing wrong but using my intellect and coming to a rational position of non-belief isn't worth worshipping in the first place. Here's a quote that casts a light on what's really important: “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” –Marcus Aurelius

      March 3, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • The Don

      Where or what scripture FV

      March 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Nuuna

      Jesus also said earth is flat, now we know its not true. If we all are to be judged by god in the end, then let one do to themselves what they desire and let god handle the rest. Why pass the judgement and not let people do what they want to do. They are not hurting anyone.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Sam's Mom

      This is an excellent article, well-written and interesting. The one thing about the folks that are enjoying bashing the author, is they know so very little about the Bible. There is an Old and New Testament. Jesus came to free us from "eye for an eye" laws. He said that those things (No killing, cheating, stealing, etc) should be written in our hearts, not forced upon us by law. The FIRST (No accident there) person he appeard to at his tomb was a woman, Mary Magdelene, and he told her to "Go tell what you have seen". I would not call that forbidding woment to teach, but the Old Testament did forbid women to teach. It would behoove anyone critical of the author of this article to at least research the book he is writing about! Go on, try it! You may actually learn some of the finer points of love and tolerance.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Sam's Mom

      FV, you are "trotting out" fractions of scripture.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.